Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa has a vivid memory of what went through his head the night of Feb. 24 when Patrick Kane fell to the ice and struggled to get up after the Panthers' Alex Petrovic hit him into the boards.
"We went home and afterward it was like, 'Holy (expletive),'" Hossa said. "Our best player is down and he looked pretty dead."
When Kane crumpled to the ice because of a broken left collarbone, it seemed the Hawks' chances of winning another Stanley Cup crumpled with him. Kane was having an MVP-caliber season and had scored 27 goals through 61 games.
But in a season rife with off-ice challenges — namely the deaths of assistant equipment manager Clint Reif and former Hawk Steve Montador — the team overcame its biggest on-ice obstacle en route to its third Cup in six years by adding pieces to the roster and changing its style of play the remaining 21 games of the regular season.
The way Kane played in the playoffs — 11 goals, 12 assists and zero effect from his injury — made the stomach-churning of late February seem pointless.
But as Hossa said, when the injury occurred, the same night Bulls guard Derrick Rose tore his right medial meniscus, the Hawks had more immediate concerns than winning the Cup.
"Our doubt and our concerns were, can we make the playoffs?" coach Joel Quenneville said. "That's what we had to worry about because of how competitive it was, where we were sitting and how tough it was to get in (the playoffs) in the (Western Conference). We had to change a little bit of our identity and how we wanted to play."
Quenneville set about remaking how the Hawks played while general manager Stan Bowman went about supplementing the roster.
Already contemplating deals with the trade deadline looming, Bowman had more latitude because Kane's salary the rest of the season came off the cap once the Hawks placed him on long-term injured reserve. That gave Bowman the freedom to land center Antoine Vermette, defenseman Kimmo Timonen and winger Andrew Desjardins.
To Bowman, the moves served not only as a reshaping of the roster for the playoffs but as a sign to the rest of the team that the organization wasn't giving up on the season. At the time, the Hawks thought they would have to advance through at least two rounds in the playoffs before Kane would return.
"The important thing for me was to give our team the belief that we believed in them and we were going to do everything we could to make the team better," Bowman said. "It was almost a signal that, 'We're behind you here.'"
The Hawks picked up the message Bowman was sending.
"When management is active at the trading deadline you know they're looking for something," Hossa said. "If nothing would happen, you might think, 'Hmm?' But when the dressing room sees they're bringing in this player and that player, you know they're aiming somewhere. It gives us a sign."
Center Brad Richards said Kane's injury was "the most trying time of the season," and seeing the front office make those moves lifted the players' spirits.
"When you make those kind of deals, you know they're still all in," he said. "We were in a bit of a rut, Kaner gets hurt and … it got us playing some good, solid hockey."
But not before Quenneville changed his team's style.
With Kane sidelined, Quenneville didn't ask his team to replace his scoring output. Instead, Quenneville asked the Hawks to tighten their defense, a trait that would come in handy in the playoffs, especially in the Stanley Cup Final when the Hawks limited the Lightning — the league's top offensive team during the regular season — to 10 goals over six games. The Hawks finished the regular season with the fewest goals allowed.
"We had to really defend," Richards said. "That helped us in how we had to play in (the finals)."
In their first nine games without Kane, the Hawks picked up 15 points, a stretch that solidified their place in the playoffs. They weren't going to win the Presidents' Trophy. But they were in, and that's all that mattered to an experienced team used to navigating its way through the playoffs and increasing its quality of play come April.
"We won several key games in a little stretch," Quenneville said. "It put us in a real good spot where maybe we don't have to play Game 82 life or death to get in. That helped us."
And as the postseason drew near, it helped the team to see how quickly Kane was improving. He began skating late in the regular season.
"When it first happens, it's kind of shocking," Richards said. "Then as we started getting closer to the end of the regular season you could see him out on the ice. He wanted to be out there right away. The doctors were telling him no.
"But you can tell he looked happy. He was in the gym. You started to hope that if you got in the playoffs, you might see him again."
They did. Kane beat the initial timetable by about four weeks and was on the ice for Game 1 of the first-round series against the Predators on April 15. Kane didn't seem to have any pain the first time he was hit into the boards, and he had no pain in Game 6 on Monday night when he assisted on the first goal, later scored himself and lifted the Cup afterward.
"I was in a position when I came back from injury … I didn't have to carry that much of a load to be honest with you," Kane said. "Obviously you want to produce and help the team out any way possible, but it wasn't like everything was on my shoulders."
But given the state of Kane's collarbone in February, the Hawks were happy his shoulders were in good enough shape to carry some of the load.